Better Help for the less-confident

The AP story Subtle Software Changes May Narrow Gender Gap describes the work of Laura Beckwith, whose study on gender differences in computer usage is quite interesting. Beckwith found that users with less self-confidence in their computer skills shied away from using debugging methods to solve problems. It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, since users with more confidence were more likely to use the debugging assistants and thus were more successful.

Beckwith is a computer scientist, so instead of trying to increase individual confidence, she wondered how the software could be changed to be more usable by those less self-assured. She found that simplifying the user interface, and using less dogmatic language, made a big difference.

Since troubleshooting is a cornerstone of Help and documentation, particularly within Minimalism, might your writing be inadvertently discouraging the types of users that you are most trying to help? Food for thought.

Posted: September 24, 2007 link to this item, Tweet this item, respond to this item